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8 common hazards in your old house -- Page 2

This household hazard was most commonly used to insulate furnaces and boilers, as well as the water pipes leading to radiators. It also was commonly used in vinyl floor coverings, a cement-and-fiber siding called transite, and in a similar composite roofing material.

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The health threat (asbestosis) comes primarily from the softer "friable" form found in insulation; when you touch it with your finger, it sends up a small puff of toxic dust. Remodelers won't, and legally can't, touch the stuff without a permit.

"Some of it is still safe and some of it isn't," says Tyson. "Anytime you see a white cloth covering ductwork, you've got to assume that that's asbestos, and you need to bring in a licensed professional to remove it."

Interior repairs generally will run you between $500 and $1,000. The exact cost depends on the type and extent of the work required:

  • $8 to $16 per linear foot for pipes and ductwork;
  • $7 to $14 a square foot for wall and ceiling plaster; and
  • $1 to $3 per square foot for floor covering.

The rule on exterior asbestos is let it be.

"It's a good insulator and moisture barrier, and because it's non-friable, chances of an asbestos particle flying free are pretty slim," says Gehman. "If it's in good shape, just leave it there."

If you must redo the outside because of exposed asbestos, the cost will be $12,000 to $15,000 to remove and replace siding.

Grounded outlets
Electrical wiring in older homes differs from modern wiring in several respects.

The electrical box of yore was typically 60 or 100 amps. Today's standard is 200 amps.

Wiring was typically not grounded. You have a visual clue here: two prongs on the outlets instead of three.

And parts of the older home where water is available (bathrooms and kitchen) were not fitted with a ground fault interrupter (GFI) circuit or outlet, which cuts off power immediately if an appliance comes in contact with water. Today, GFI also is required in at least one outlet in the garage because of the potential for water from vehicles and weather.

Rewiring your old house can be done room by room or all at once. In homes where behind-the-wall wiring is not practical, a good alternative may be concealing the new wiring behind the baseboards.

A single GFI outlet can cost as little as $75. The cost to rewire a kitchen so every appliance has its own circuit runs from $750 to $1,500. And if you have to rewire the entire house, expect to spend from $7,000 to $10,000.

Oil tanks
This was a common heating fuel source for many older homes. Most states require contractors to obtain a special environmental permit before removing buried heating oil tanks. Samples must be taken from the soil around the tank to assess contamination.

Disposal guidelines vary. In Pennsylvania, Gehman says tanks are usually taken to a scrap metal yard where an acetylene torch is used to cut the tank in half, thereby igniting (and burning off) any remaining oil, while in North Carolina, tanks must be taken to a tank farm. Filling tanks with sand or rock may be an alternative.

If your old fuel oil tank didn't leak, it will cost around $2,500 to dispose of it.

Wells, cesspools and septic tanks
Many vintage properties long ago converted to public sewer systems, leaving unused wells, cesspools and septic tanks on the property.

When a remodeling contractor unearths one of these surprises, the solutions vary, from draining the contents to filling it in some manner. If building is planned over the area, an old septic tank may have to be removed.

It costs around $1,200 to $1,500 to fill a septic tank, $2,000 to remove it.

Regardless of the type of hidden hazard that might lurk within "This Old House," don't count on your remodeling contractor to pick up the cost of fixing surprise problems.

"We actually have a clause in our contract called concealed conditions," says Tyson. "While I can do inspections all over the place and crawl in the attic and underneath the house, I don't have X-ray vision. No contractor does."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.


-- Posted: Posted: June 8, 20042




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